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Sotheby’s London Modern & Contemporary Evening Sale

June 28, 2024
A street art-style triptych by Jean-Michel Basquiat sold at Sotheby's

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Sotheby’s London hosted their Modern & Contemporary evening sale on Tuesday, June 25th, featuring paintings, drawings, and sculptures mainly by nineteenth- and twentieth-century European and North American artists. The auction’s top lot, predicted by Sotheby’s specialists as such, was a large triptych by Jean-Michel Basquiat called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Derelict. The painting caught some attention in the press mainly because of something that rarely happens to a Basquiat painting; it seems to have decreased in value, according to Sotheby’s. The painting’s owner consigned it to Christie’s in 2022, where it would appear in their New York Contemporary Evening sale that May. However, the seller withdrew the painting shortly before the auction took place. Christie’s expected it to sell more than $30 million. Over two years later, Sotheby’s reassessed its value and gave it an estimated range of £15 million to £20 million. There was no great bidding war, as it took fifteen seconds for the winning bid to come through, with forty-four seconds spent on the lot. It sold for its low estimate at £15 million / $19 million (or £16 million / $20.36 million w/p).

A cubist still-life by Picasso of a guitar on a red tablecloth sold at Sotheby's

Guitare sur un tapis rouge by Pablo Picasso

Behind the Basquiat was one of Pablo Picasso’s cubist still-lifes from 1922, entitled Guitare sur un tapis rouge. It was previously in the collection of Walter P. Chrysler Jr., founder of the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Virginia, and son of the auto industry executive Walter Chrysler. The painting was last sold at Christie’s London in 2004 for £1.8 million w/p. The Picasso started at £8 million, making its way up to £9.3 million / $11.8 million (or £10.7 million / $13.6 million w/p) before running out of gas and the hammer coming down, falling slightly short of its £10 million low estimate – not a bad increase over the past 20 years. Behind the Picasso was one of the several Renoir paintings featured in the sale. Bouquet de lilas was the first of four Renoir paintings available at Sotheby’s on Tuesday, this one an 1878 floral still-life. The painting has a long history of bouncing around between galleries, dealers, and private collectors, including Georges Petit, Galerie Durand-Ruel, and Lionel Pissarro. It last sold at auction at Sotheby’s New York in 1987 for $852.5K w/p. Unlike the Basquiat and the Picasso, which sold at or slightly below their minimum estimates relatively quickly, the Renoir attracted quite a bit of attention. Bidding started at £1.3 million, and things slowly but steadily chugged along, with the painting surpassing its high estimate after just under three minutes. After eight minutes of bidding, the Renoir sold for £5.8 million / $7.4 million (or £6.88 million / $8.7 million w/p).

A still-life of flowers in a white vase on a table

Bouquet de lilas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

There were not many surprises at Sotheby’s, but one painting towards the end seemed to draw more attention than expected. Autoportrait en blanc by Françoise Gilot is a self-portrait of the artist created in 1944. The work appears to have been influenced by sculpture, which was not unusual for the time as other artists like Jean Metzinger and Fernand Léger were doing the same. Predicted to sell for no more than £150K, the Gilot brought in a steady stream of bids before selling for twice that price at £300K / $380.4K (or £360K / $456.4K w/p). The success of the Gilot self-portrait reminded me somewhat of a different painting by the artist that sold at Christie’s Paris in April. Le Concert Champêtre selling for €1.3 million hammer was a far more important moment than you might expect. It signaled Gilot’s increasing acceptance in the European market. Most of Gilot’s success came from the United States, where she moved after ending her relationship with Pablo Picasso. Though not as significant of a moment as Le Concert Champêtre selling in Paris, the Gilot’s success in London proves that the artist’s reputation in Europe is drastically improving.

Overall, Sotheby’s did rather well. Of the fifty available lots on Tuesday, nineteen sold within their estimates, giving Sotheby’s specialists a 38% accuracy rate. An additional sixteen (32%) sold under estimate, and eleven (22%) sold above. With only four lots failing to sell, Sotheby’s achieved a 92% sell-through rate. Furthermore, the house did relatively well in terms of its total, adding up to £72 million / $91.4 million against the low presale estimate of £69.57 million.